Weaponized drones, military and civilian

Image of surveillance drone courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com
Image of surveillance drone courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

A few of many articles on drones that caught my eye: precision of military drone strikes and possible weaponization of drones by law enforcement in North Dakota.

The second and third articles I’ll mention have a visible bias and agenda. Do I also have multiple biases and agendas?

You better believe I do. Read any five consecutive blog posts and you will quickly see my point of view.

The difference between those articles and this blog is that I’m not pretending to be objective.

8/27 – Wall Street Journal – Hacker Killed by Drone Was ‘Secret Weapon’ – This cyberwar stuff is going kinetic.

All this info is from the government, so filter it as you wish.

A British citizen who spent time in jail for hacking went to work for ISIS.  He set up the defensive cyber security program for ISIS and was engaged in offensive cyber war efforts. He identified personal and financial information for an unspecified number of Western military staff and publicized it, suggesting others kill those individuals.

He apparently was successful in recruiting several people. Government sources claim he was the person who recruited the two American Muslims who shot up the cartoon event in Texas.

Apparently this individual made it to the top of the intel list and Western military sources (read that as U.S. Air Force) worked to take him out. He was reportedly killed on Tuesday.

Look more closely at where he was reportedly killed – while he was in a moving vehicle.  The drone strike hit a specific vehicle while it contained a high priority cyber war commander.

Ponder the level of intel gathering and real-time monitoring, along with availability and flexibility of drone resources that operation required. Impressive.

8/26 – Daily Beast – First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops, Thanks to a Lobbyist / North Dakota police will be free to fire “less than lethal” weapons from the air thanks to the influence of Big Drone. – First official authorization for police use of weaponized drones is in place. Just like the next article I’ll discuss, this article has a point of view, a bias, and an agenda. Filter the article as you wish.

A lobbyist for the police union was allowed to modify a bill that would have banned all weapons on drones. He slipped in a small change to a bill which would ban lethal weapons instead of all weapons. That allows ‘less than lethal’, which would include tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, or bean bag bullets.

The Grand Forks County Sheriff leads the only agency in the state authorized to use drones at all. Thus the bill only affects that agency. The Sheriff doesn’t see any reason his agency needs a search warrant when it sends a drone out looking for something interesting to see. He says the agency needs the surveillance data to justify getting a search warrant. I think that would be some sort of warrantless pre-search search.

For the non-attorneys reading, the analogy this non-attorney thinks of is whether a police office can walk into your back yard just because he feels like it and look around, open the trash can, peer in the back window for a while, and look behind the shed to see what’s going on. Maybe use an infrared sensor to see if here is anything of legal interest inside the shed.

9/3 – Dickinson Press – Grand Forks County law enforcement say mixing weapons, UAS not in the cards – County Sheriff mentioned in previous article explains the department policy allows use of drones in five situations. None of those would be conducive to use of less-than-lethal weapons. So the department has no intention of weaponizing.

The pro-sheriff reporting in the article points out that weaponized drones are allowed in 43 states.

The very next paragraph blows up that argument. Only 7 states have laws that address weaponization of drones. Six ban all weapons (Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin) and North Dakota bans lethal weapons. The other 43 states don’t have a specific law on weaponization. I don’t think that is quite the same as saying 43 states allow law enforcement agencies to put weapons on drones. Saying so makes the local department and the state lobbyist look like they are the norm instead of the only one in the country.

The rest of the article is an apology for the Sheriff’s department. I use the term apology in the classic sense, meaning a defense of the department, presenting their side of the argument, or advancing their position. The department has a policy in place and the they have neither plans nor intentions to change the policy.

The gaping hole in that argument is that a department’s policy can change tomorrow morning merely at the wish of the department, only subject to their internal review process and any concern they might have about public reaction. Thus the need for a state law.

There might be very good arguments for local police weaponizing drones. I think we need to have a lot more discussion before taking that step.

The president of the association who lobbied to allow less-than-lethal weapons paints a scenario worth discussing. In the situation of a barricaded suspect, there could be value in using a drone to get in close to apply pepper spray directly to the suspect. More discussion would be good. Changing laws in back-room lobbying isn’t the way to develop a consensus.

8/28 – Bismarck Tribune – N.D. continues to lead in drones – The FAA has approved night flights of drones and flights up to 1,200 feet above ground. That will allow more research and experimentation. For example, looking for hot spots in fires or testing what elevation is best for assessing crop conditions. Those permissions have not been granted anywhere else.

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